I woke up this morning to a heartfelt Twitter thread from UNICEF Jamaica – which, more often than not, is the voice of our conscience about how we treat our children. It follows the horrific story this week of a murder-suicide. It happened in public, on a Kingston street, at seven in the morning last Thursday. A woman was running for her life down the street, pursued by her husband, armed with a gun. He shot his estranged wife (who was reportedly pregnant) dead, then shot himself.
There was the usual hand-wringing. Both husband and wife were correctional officers in the prison system. There was talk about “Oh, it was known that they were having marital problems.” There were comments like, “Oh, this could have been prevented, they should have got counseling, working in prisons is very stressful”… etc, etc. The man was reportedly a “serial abuser.”
The following day, there was plenty of political news and a court decision, and over the weekend many of us were talking about the new season of Game of Thrones. This terrible incident was not even a “nine-day wonder.” Let’s say, one and a half days.
This is not the first murder-suicide in recent months. Last Christmas, a 40-year-old woman was murdered by her boyfriend, who was reportedly jealous of her ex. The boyfriend then killed himself. In February this year, a man chased his girlfriend out of their house in St. James as she tried to get away during an argument, shot her and then himself. Jealousy was said to be behind another murder-suicide when a man killed his girlfriend and teenage step-daughter in St. James last September, then drove his car into the river and drowned.
And so it goes on. Each time, the same things are said. Each time, we move on with our lives.
Last week’s incident was different – although far from unique. This time, the couple’s twelve-year-old daughter witnessed the event – the violent deaths of her parents. I’m grateful to UNICEF Jamaica for this morning’s thread of tweets (although the voice of our conscience seems to have been stilled). It reads as follows:
This week’s news reports about a mother whose life was violently taken by her husband in front of their young child, are a tragic and distressing reminder about the alarming levels of violence faced by women – and the children who are witness to it. #ENDviolence
According to the Jamaica Women’s Health Survey (2016), one in every four Jamaican women has experienced physical violence by a male partner.
Many of these women are mothers, whose children are watching and listening to horrific acts of violence that should never be a part of their childhood.
A recent UNICEF study showed that 176 million children under age five – 1 in 4 children worldwide – live with a mother who is a victim of intimate partner violence.
Not only can this exposure have a devastating and long-lasting effect on a child’s health and well-being, it also contributes to an alarming intergenerational cycle of violence.
Both global and local research has shown that children who are exposed to violence have a greater likelihood to become victims or perpetrators of domestic violence later in life.
In Jamaica, almost half of women who experienced intimate partner sexual violence had been beaten as children. Close to 30 per cent who experienced intimate partner physical violence in their lifetime had seen their mother beaten.
UNICEF is deeply concerned about how this cycle of violence is affecting Jamaican children and the society as a whole, against the backdrop of an epidemic of violence that is largely normalized.
UNICEF strongly encourages women who are victims of domestic violence to seek help to protect themselves and their children. We also urge the Government of 🇯🇲 to help ensure that children who witness violence are provided with psycho-social support to cope and heal.
UNICEF stands ready to support these efforts. We must do all we can together to end violence against women and children.
Our Government has high hopes for a “New Jamaica” (yes, there’s a hashtag for that, which our Prime Minister uses). Our young entrepreneurs have high hopes, too. So do our university students, our businessmen…Our women and our children. But hey – we may as well put the last two into a “vulnerable group” category. Because they are. Not only vulnerable but (literally) threatened. I guess they just hope to survive.
Until we care for, nurture and respect our women and children, we cannot aspire to (or achieve) greatness in this country.
No matter how many neon-lit high-rise buildings we erect. No matter how many shiny hotels and highways we build.
Oh, what about Vision 2030?